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Adam Larkey, ABC
Actress Priscilla Presley rehearses with her dance partner, Louis van Amstel. Presley "is a natural mover," van Amstel says.

The popularity of such TV shows as "Dancing With the Stars" and "Dance Wars" has thrown ballroom dance into the pop-culture spotlight.

And while that is great for promoting the art, there are differences in the dancing on TV and the dancing in actual international competitions.

For Utahn Louis van Amstel, the man who will be the partner of Priscilla Presley, 62, on this season's "Dancing With the Stars," the differences are just another challenge to be tackled.

"When dancing and choreographing for a DanceSport competition, you know the rules," van Amstel said during a phone call after rehearsals from Los Angeles, Calif. "The same goes for the TV show. But the DanceSport judges and the dancers are expecting certain characteristics. They are expecting you to follow the rules and be creative.

"With the TV show, a professional dancer is dancing with a celebrity who may or may not have had some experience dancing in their past. The judges expect the celebrities to do certain steps and show they enjoy it. And that's where the choreographer can get the advantage. If the celebrity is having fun and doing the steps, they usually get awarded higher points. Priscilla surprises me. She is a natural mover and does well for someone who is over 60 years old."

"An actual competition is judged on the dance," said Linda Wakefield, co-director of the Brigham Young University Ballroom Dance Company. "These are professional dancers and the expectation is high.

"On TV, so many of the celebrities are not dancers. And the judging is different. It's more based on whether or not the celebrities get the steps. But also, the TV judging is more relaxed. There is a lot of leeway. In the competitions, the judges are looking for technique, but on TV they are looking at the dancers' expression and how it comes through the presentation of the music."

One main difference is seen in the dance interpretations, Wakefield said. "On TV, the couples can break apart during a slow waltz. But in competitive dance, the couple must stay together. And that's a rule that is strictly enforced in competition."

Wakefield said, however, that she is happy there are TV programs that focus on ballroom dance.

"I was a part of one TV program called 'Ballroom Bootcamp' a few years ago," she said. "And it is difficult to train a person who has never ballroom danced. The dancing on the TV reality shows are never at the highest level, and that also has to do with the pressure for the TV programs. The dancers and celebrities quickly learn a dance in a week. They dance it, but then they quickly forget it because they are working on a new dance the next week. It's like cramming for an exam. There isn't much retained.

"I wish they could have more time. It would be interesting to see how the celebrities develop as dancers with a single piece, rather than having to cram, perform and cram again."

Van Amstel, a seven-time Dutch National Amateur Champ, World Professional Showdance Champion and choreographer of the "Dancing With the Stars" tour, agreed with Wakefield, saying the retention of a learned routine is a challenge.

"There are times in the TV show when we have to repeat a dance," he said "It's usually the one you like best. And that's easier to remember. But it is hard remembering because you are always looking ahead to the next piece."

There is also a personal challenge that faces the stars and pro dancers with the rising popularity of "Dancing With the Stars," he said.

"You have to watch your back every minute of the day," said van Amstel, who is in the process of creating a professional ballroom dance company that will be housed at Orem's Centre stage studios and is working with former "DWTS" partner Lisa Rinna and her husband Harry Hamlin on a DanceSport fitness project. "I have to watch what I say and do and even wear, because you never know what they will show on the show. And you never know what will end up on YouTube or in the tabloids."

E-mail: scott@desnews.com